In previous issues I have dealt with base malts (May-June 2013), crystal/caramel malts (November 2013), and black malt (December 2013), so now it's the turn for specialty malts. But what do I mean by that term? In fact it is a bit of a vague term, and the best I can do is to say that specialty malts are those malts added in small amounts with the intention of achieving a special effect, such as coloring the beer or giving it a special flavor. As such, their contribution to extract yield is not overly important as compared to base malts. In that sense you can argue that crystal and black malts fit this definition, but we've been there, got the commemorative glass, so I will only talk about other specialty malts here.
Most of those I shall cover are either toasted or roasted, and several are quite distinct products and come in only one form, such as amber, brown, Victory®, Special B, and Belgian Biscuit. Chocolate malts on the other hand come in a variety of forms, varying in levels of roasting and color. Many specialty malts simply require steeping to pull out whatever goodies they have, so they are well suited to extract brewing, although some such as amber and brown may require you to do a partial mash. Their importance lies in the fact that their variety, when combined with the range of base malts available, permits you to produce beers with a huge range of flavors, colors and aromas. The possibilities are endless, a point not understood by most wine critics who think that it is their beverage that has the greatest variety of flavors, usually because they are ignorant enough to think there is only one style of beer!
Let's start with biscuit malts. There are three that I am conversant, Briess Victory® Malt, at 28 °L, Belgian Biscuit Malt (20 °L) and Briess Special Roast (50 °L). All of them yield a starting gravity (SG) of 1.022–1.024/lb./gallon (5.6–6.1 °P) at 65% brewhouse efficiency and add biscuit or bready notes to the beer, as well as some brown color. Special Roast is of course more highly flavored and colored than the other two, and is said to give almost a sourdough flavor so it needs to be used with care in paler and more delicate beers. However these malts can be used to your advantage in almost all beer styles, except pale ales and pale lagers. I particularly like to use Victory® malt in an IPA while Special Roast goes well in a robust porter or oatmeal stout. You can add them at the rate of up to 15% of the grist, though I generally prefer 5-10%, depending what other specialty malts are in the recipe in question. In fact, I have used as much as 20% of Victory® malt in an IPA where it is the only specialty malt, and I have been pleased with the results. For extract brewing, these malts are relatively starchy and perform best when mashed with a pale (enzymatic) malt.
Melanoidin malt is a German product and has some similarity to higher dried Munich malts, but is definitely more aromatic and provides a malty fullness in the beer. It has a moderate color at 23–31 °L, but with somewhat of a reddish hue. It will yield 1.024–1.025 SG/lb./gallon (5.8–6.3 °P) at 65% efficiency. It is a malt that is really designed for use in lagers, so that they mimic those produced by decoction mashing. That means that it can be used in most other beer styles where you are looking for a little more body and fullness without adding caramel or roasted flavors such as English bitter, brown ales, amber ales and so on. I also think it helps to soften the roasted aspects of the various forms of stouts. It can be added at rates up to 20% of the grist, but I prefer to limit it to about 10%, especially where significant amounts of other specialty malts are used. Using it in an extract brew would require a partial mash with pale malt to be carried out.
Special B malt
Next is Special B malt, a Belgian product that is really a type of crystal malt, but the production process is such that it has a very different flavor from other crystal malts. Special B has been roasted 130–150 °L and has a strong caramel and raisin flavor, but without the roasty notes that may be conferred by crystal malts of a similar color.
Special B gives a relatively low extract yield of 1.020 SG/lb./gallon (5.1 °P) at 65% efficiency. It is quite versatile and can be used to your advantage in many beer styles, particularly mild, brown and amber ales, English bitter, porters and stouts. It confers a nice warm red hue in all styles except the darker stouts. I like to use it in East Coast IPAs, which tend to be more malty and balanced than their dry, highly-hopped West Coast cousins. It can easily be overdone, for it has a strong enough presence to unbalance the lighter beers and I would limit its use to no more than 5% of the total grist. It requires only steeping for use in extract beers.
Amber malt is drum-dried malt, but is subjected to a temperature only somewhat slightly higher than would be the case for pale malt. It is modest in color at 20–30 °L, and will give an extract yield of 1.022–1.023 SG/lb./gallon (5.6–5.8 °P). Amber malt imparts little in the way of sweetness, but does add some body and a biscuity, nutty flavor to beer.
In its original form it was a classic porter ingredient in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when many porter grist formulations consisted of equal parts pale, amber, and brown malts. Modern amber may well be different in flavor to the earlier type, but can still add complexity, especially in mild, brown and amber ales, and porters, although its flavor tends to be drowned in hoppy beers. Adding it at the rate of 10-15% of the grist in a mash is usually the best way to go and works especially well for a brown porter. Amber malt does contain some starch and must be used in a partial mash along with pale malt if you want to use it in an extract brew. You may want to use it in only small amounts along with the more flavorful brown or biscuit malts.
In historical terms, brown malt is the porter malt, for it was quoted as being the sole malt used on brewing porters. It was prepared by drying the green malt very quickly in such a manner that the grain would "pop" as the internal moisture boiled. Modern brown malt is different in that it is drum-dried rather than kilned, and is taken to a higher temperature than amber malt, making it darker in color (50–70 °L), with an extract potential of around 1.022 SG/lb./gallon (5.6 °P) for 65% efficiency. Until recently it was only an English product but Briess now offers their Carabrown® Malt WK, which they quote as being on the light side of the brown malt style at 55 °L.
Brown malt will add sweetness, some biscuity character, some toasted notes, caramel, toffee, and particularly licorice flavors. It contains some starch and can only be used when mashed along with pale malt. I think 20% of the grist would be a good top limit for most beers, but 10-15% would be sufficient in the case of lower gravity beers. Quite obviously it works very well in porters and in all forms of stout, but at lower addition rates it also adds something to mild, brown and old ales. In such cases it will give even better results when used with an equivalent amount of amber malt. I haven't tried it, but a touch of brown malt might also work well in dark lagers, and even in black IPAs. It will be obvious from the above that you will need to do a partial mash with this malt and some pale malt, along with any other specialty malts you wish to use, in your extract beers.
Chocolate malt is an old favorite, which we all know as a high-roast product coming in at the far end of the spectrum just before the ultimate roasted product black malt. Yet it is not just one product, for the "degree of roast" and the color of chocolate malt covers quite a range and varies from one manufacturer to another. See Table 1 on page 98 for a list of products from some well-known manufacturers.
In general, chocolate malt confers chocolate, nutty and light roasted flavors to beer. But the point I want to make from Table 1 is that the higher the color, the more highly the malt has been roasted and the stronger the flavor effect will be, for a given rate of addition. Indeed, at the very top of the color spectrum this malt comes close to the color of black malt, so the flavor can be expected to be somewhat harsh, with less cocoa-type, or nutty flavors. Note that Weyermann also has their Carafa® Special I, II, and III that are made from de-husked barley, so that for a given color level they will give a somewhat smoother flavor than other chocolate malts. Chocolate malts give an extract yield at 65% efficiency of 1.022 SG/lb./gallon (5.6 °P) and can be leached out by steeping in hot water, so chocolate malt is ideal for use in extract brewing. Just for the record, Weyermann goes even further and makes chocolate wheat malt (300–450 °L), and chocolate rye malt (188–300 °L), although I haven't yet seen these in any of my homebrewing supplier's catalogues.
Preeminent in porters and stouts, chocolate malts are usually used at the rate of 5-10% of the grist, depending on the style. But at somewhat lower rates they add something to a whole range of other beers from brown, mild, amber, and old ales to even English bitter in small amounts. The very pale types can also be used in dark lagers, especially doppelbock, but the de-husked varieties are even more fitted for this purpose, and indeed are good in any brew where you want chocolate flavor without roastiness.
There are other specialty malts out there, such as oat malt, rye malt, peated and smoked malts that I have excluded, partly due to lack of space, but also because their use is limited to only a few beer styles. The malts I have dealt with have applications in a wide range of styles, and should be considered whenever you start to work out a new recipe, or want to get something extra out of an old recipe. I have dealt with them separately, but they are more commonly used in combination with one another, which means that the permutations of flavors you can achieve with these malts makes it easy to brew distinctive beers. When formulating a recipe, think carefully as to what you want to achieve, then run down the list of these malts and see if any fit what you are looking for.